Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub, who do you think they are? There is travel show host Ray Marsh, his producer/director Alan Meursalt, and their replacement cameraman Sean Tibbets, appointed at the last minute and picked up at the dock, the only three survivors adrift aboard the cruise ship Langøysund out of Longyearbyen, Svalbard, the northernmost settlement in Norway in the cold reaches of the Arctic Circle, the crew and the rest of the passengers having vanished in the blink of an eye.
A frosty and unanticipated rapture, the men at first think it is some kind of hoax, a prank played upon them, but stalled in open water they struggle to find a rational explanation when it becomes apparent it is not, the voyage already having witnessed other strange events, a blind seagull, a walrus on the ice turning on its pup. Ray spying a settlement on the shore, they make their way by dinghy but find it is equally deserted, a relic of Soviet occupation populated only by disoriented and dying animals possessed of the same lesions spreading on Alan’s body.
A mystery thriller of isolation and paranoia, Arctic Void is directed by Darren Mann, shot on unforgiving location with sixteen people in sixteen days, a place of beauty and solitude where nature makes the rules and those who push against it rarely live to tell the tale, the credits including an acknowledgement of the requirement for “polar bear security.”
Written by Michael Weaver from a story by Mann, Jay Kirk and William Paul Jones, he also stars as Ray, the more ebullient of the intrepid duo, unattached and eager to enjoy himself, always pushing to the horizon, while Tim Griffin’s Alan is more reserved, feeling the separation from his wife and children, and Justin Huen is Scott, cagey about his past and overly attached to his antique reel-to-reel sound equipment.
The initial mystery intriguing – how can a boatload of people vanish and why were these specific individuals spared? – it is frustrated in having one of the three a clear outsider whose first action after witnessing the event is to lie to the others then feign ignorance of what has happened, after which it is a long wait for the narrative to catch up with what the audience already know.
Like Graffiti or The Resort, the eerie setting bereft of human occupation is half the sell of Arctic Void, and while the cast are convincing in their bewilderment, doubt and anger as one of their number deteriorates, it is not strong enough to keep the ship afloat, the ultimate explanation little more than a MacGuffin delivered in a single speech, Kate Bush’s Experiment IV played as accompaniment to The Dyatlov Pass Incident, an underdeveloped premise whose conclusion is played for expedience and convenience rather than dramatic satisfaction.